Monday, April 16, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Hector D. Junior

Q. Welcome to Ink-Quisitions, Hector. You started your writing career with a background in Journalism. But in terms of spilling ink, you felt compelled to write fiction. What year did you enroll in Florida International University’s (FIU) MFA program? And did you make any attempts at publishing fiction prior to your enrollment?

A. I enrolled at FIU’s MFA program in 2009 and I hadn't tried to publish anything before then because I simply didn’t feel I had the talent or ability.

Q. A lot of folks with an interest in writing fiction often struggle with the decision of whether or not they should try to enroll in an MFA creative writing program. So how did your FIU experiences shape you as a writer?

A. Whatever small “career” I might have in writing at the moment is thanks to FIU. When I enrolled, I couldn’t write myself out of a paper bag. Now, I can at least recognize I’m inside the paper bag and start poking holes to find my way out. It’s made me better at recognizing the elements of plot, which helps me be a better editor.

Q. These days you teach in Miami at the high school and college levels. You also serve with Rob Pierce as co-editor of the San Francisco-based online magazine Flash Fiction Offensive (FFO), which publishes a story every week. Despite juggling these tasks, you finally and recently completed your college dissertation. Meanwhile, your saintly girlfriend Samantha and your spoiled tuxedo-cat Felina seem to enjoy living with you.

So what motivates Hector Duarte Jr.? How have you managed to give so much to your students—and still found the energy to write fiction—while completing your college requirements; and somehow living in domestic bliss?

A. I don’t know myself, Jesse, to be honest. It’s rough and my saintly girlfriend Samantha hopefully still sees it as domestic bliss when I come up to her AT LEAST once, twice a week and ask her, “Am I stretching myself too thin?” To this day, she’s of the opinion I’m pretty good at balancing it all out, but my big fear is taking on too much and having it all feel like work. It’s all about compartmentalizing, blocking specific amounts of times for each thing: writing, grading essays, petting my cat, and, most importantly, making sure the ones you love still know they are important and that you love them. So, just telling yourself, “all right, I’m going to write for an hour today.” Then, keeping that hour and not beating yourself up later because you didn’t go for ninety minutes. The key, though, make sure you take one day a week where you don’t do shit and give yourself a much-needed mental break. Otherwise, you will get overwhelmed and there goes everything, not just the writing. I never want to get to a point where writing feels like work. I want it to remain fun.

Q. Faced with these draconian time constraints, how long did you work on the novella portion of your first book, DESPERATE TIMES CALL (recently released by Shotgun Honey): which also includes a collection of your crime fiction stories?

A. I worked on that novella over a period of two years, easily. A perpetual ping-pong game of plot and line edits with my thesis advisors, Debra Dean and Lynne Barrett.

Q. You write with the premise that good fiction should give a reason why a particular event occurs. Why do you hold to this principle?

A. It’s cliché but truth is stranger than fiction. Why? Because life is chaotic and things just happen sometimes, without a reasonable explanation. This is why we write as authors and read as readers, to make sense of the world. The only way to do that is to write about the good, bad, weird, and crazy shit that happens in life, but give it meaning and purpose.

Q. You’ve shared that your book takes a look at how ordinary people sometimes feel forced to react when “pushed” by calloused folks during high-stress situations. Without giving away any plots, what kinds of circumstances do some of your characters find themselves confronting?

A. We have a father who breaks a restraining order to visit his daughters at school. A guy burned in love who decides to vent in front of a live audience. Two people who meet through a dating service and swap horror stories. That’s just to name a few. 

Q. Have you ever felt “desperation” in your own life? If so, would you care to share some of these circumstances—and how you resolved your inner conflicts?

A. Of course. Up to and including an anxiety attack back in 2010. I still have my issues but I’ve learned to see them coming, accept my vulnerability, and just slow it the fuck down. That’s the most important thing I am working on now; slowing it the hell down. Writing definitely helps but sometimes processing violence, people being wicked, and the general chaotic state of the word can be overwhelming. That’s when a day off comes in handy.

Q. Like the earlier authors in this series, you also contributed to the kickass Johnny Cash tribute collection JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE edited by Joe Clifford on behalf of Gutter Books. Your anthology story, “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” involves school bullying—and bleeds with desperation.

Is school bullying something you’ve witnessed and struggled to deal with as a teacher? Or did you draw from news events and your imagination?

A. 2018 marks my twelfth year teaching (fuck me). In that time, I have seen all types of bullying: student-student; teacher-student; student-teacher; parent-student. You get the idea. So, yeah, the story in the Cash anthology came from witnessing, in some form or another, bullying in all aspects of society. And, unfortunately, I did witness someone run over a duck just outside my home. What I write tends to have a balance of real-life and imaginative extrapolation. Like all things, I guess.

Q. Since the publication of your first book you now face the challenges of trying to promote your work. You even opened your first Twitter account. But I hope you’re not tweeting while you’re talking to me.

Are you?

Never mind. I don’t wanna know.

Getting back to self-aggrandizement, what other tools are you using to try and promote your book?

A. I only started my Facebook page to promote my writing. Then, I very reluctantly started the Twitter page when Josh Hattan at the Urban Book Club offered to have me conduct an Ask me Anything session over Twitter about my book. I asked him, “Do I have to open a Twitter account?” Josh, ever empathetic and very used to dealing with writers kindly said, “I’m afraid, it’s the only way this will work.”

He didn’t have to say much more. Social media can be a weird necessity because you have promote your work while not being annoying, pile-driving peoples’ newsfeeds, or coming across like a beggar. To answer your question, I use Facebook and Twitter and I’m barely on either of those. 

Q. Comradery within the Writing Community can certainly buoy a writer. I mentioned Joe Clifford earlier. He and Tom Pitts managed FFO before you and Rob Pierce rolled into the gutter … and descended to the throne. Steve W. Lauden recently referred to Joe as one of the most talented miscreants he’s encountered.

How did you meet this guy with all those tats—I mean Mr. Clifford? (Talk about ink.) And how has he impacted your writing life?

A. I met Joe Clifford at the FIU Alumni reading back in 2013, asked him for his business card, and emailed him that night about how best to go about getting a story on FFO. Within a month, I had something up on the site and I was hooked.

From then on in, he’s been nothing but an amazing mentor, creative shoulder to cry on and, at this point, it’s safe to say we’re buds (as closely as two guys living on opposite coasts can be). To this day he laughs because we met for lunch at AWP Seattle [Association of Writers and Writing Programs, Seattle Conference] back in 2014 and I was such a fan boy, just fawning over having lunch with him. He sensed my anxiety and at one point just turned to me and, I’ll never forget, said, “Hector, relax. I’m really not in such high demand.” That was the moment the ice broke between us and this interview is happening right now because of Joe Clifford. Whatever writing career I may carve out in the future, it is all because he opened a door and said, “Go ahead but watch your step.” I hope to serve that same role for someone else someday. In the end, that’s the goal of having any kind of push, power, influence, whatever you want to call it; use it to help someone else reach their level of push, power, and influence.

Simply put, I owe my very tiny writing career to Joe Clifford and I will never forget that.

Many of its “members” might hate to hear me say this but the crime writing community very much operates like an online hippie commune. They are all there for each other, extending handshakes, invitations, opportunities, and loads of support at the drop of a hat. It’s amazing how normal, supportive, and just down to earth these folks are. Especially considering so many of them are mondo-talented. I love it, man. I’m so glad to be a part of it. I hope I am, anyway.

Q. Before I leave you to your Twitter account: you’re assigned to craft a Pub Crawl for out-of-town miscreant writers (Mark Westmoreland chief among them). Where does your tour take them? Or do you invite them to one particular pub—and let them crawl out on their own?



A. My forever favorite bar is Titanic Brewery right across the University of Miami campus. They have good brews, awesome food, and the best part—no pretension.

Q. For anyone wishing to add some food to their otherwise liquid diet, what’s one culinary dish you believe folks oughta try when visiting Miami? And what are some good places to indulge?

A. Islas Canarias way out west—almost hitting the Everglades—has amazing Cuban food. You definitely want to try their ham croquetas. They’re the best I’ve ever had and, believe me, I’ve done extensive research. Make sure you get at least two.

Thanks for your time on S&G's rack, Hector. You've certainly just wet my appetite for more than spilling ink.

Meanwhile, anyone with an interest can swing by Pulp Metal Magazine and read Hector's story Fish Hook for free.

Folks can also buy the Anthony Award nominated anthology JUST TO WATCH THEM DIE (which includes Hector's story “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow”) here on Amazon.

Sorry to say, but presently there is no Link where folks can buy DESPERATE TIMES CALL.

Meanwhile though, you can find Hector on Facebook and Twitter at the addresses below:

www.facebook.com/hector.d.junior

@hexpubs (Twitter)

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3 comments:

  1. Feed the authors, show em some love.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey guys,great interview! And Hector, you're opening doors too!
    (Oh, and you're not alone about the Twitter thing!)
    🤣😎

    ReplyDelete